Food & Dining Magazine’s Tim and Lori Laird are our officially accredited Ambassadors of Entertainment, whose “Easy Entertaining” column has been a staple for many the year.

Recently we’ve been running their past columns in the afternoon, having found their recommendations about entertaining at home useful for crowds of guests big and small, or none at all — just your own family unit. Here are a few examples:

For instance, a steakhouse night at YOUR house.

We go to dinner at upscale steakhouses because they promise comforting luxury–familiar meat and potatoes fare, but of the best quality. And the best steakhouses deliver on that promise: big steaks, steaming potatoes, side dishes big enough to share, all served with an opulence designed to make us not regret the splurge that the check confirms.

But let’s fact it–you don’t need a culinary degree to cook this kind of meal. You can reproduce it at home with just a little care. Pay attention when selecting your ingredients: deep green broccoli with tight clusters of florets, a premium steak (we chose T-bone for its compromise between flavor and tenderness – filets aren’t beefy enough for this meal). Buy the best quality tomatoes you can find and let them ripen a few days on the counter before you slice them. Even buying the best you can find brings you in way under the dollars you’d spend eating out.

Brown is a flavor as well as a color and the darker that sear, the better your steak will taste. They know that at steakhouses. Pay attention and you’ll see the chefs cook it just short of burning. Use the burner on your stove with the most fire-power (the biggest) and use a heavy skillet (cast iron works very well). Let the pan and the vegetable oil get good and hot before adding the meat. Pat the steak dry with paper towels before adding it to the hot pan so the sear begins right away. And use salt and pepper with confidence before you cook the steak; you don’t want to over salt, but a shake or two from the shaker won’t be enough.

We chose side dishes here just like we do off a menu – these are our favorites. Tim loves the creamed spinach and it’s not something we ever make for ourselves. Ditto the hash browns. Baked potatoes are easy to do; hash browns at a steakhouse are special – crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Tim has perfected the recipe over many trials and we think you’ll agree it’s delicious. You can add onion or cheese to the potatoes if you like.

Besides lavish amounts of butter used on steak in these restaurants, a spice rub is often used to add another dimension of flavor. Tim has developed a spice rub we think is perfect. Use extras what’s left over to rub generously on the skin of chicken before grilling, or on pork shoulder before a long, slow barbecue.

(Originally published in the Summer 2010 issue of Food & Dining)

Timeline – Steakhouse at Home

1 week ahead

Shop for non-perishable groceries
Make the ‘Spice Rub’
Order your cut of steak if it is not normally carried by your butcher

2 days ahead

Prepare your table with platters and serving pieces

1 day ahead

Shop for last minute groceries
Put the frozen spinach in the refrigerator to thaw for the ‘Creamed Spinach’
Put the frozen lobster tail in the refrigerator to thaw
Make the ‘Raspberry Sauce’ for the ‘Chocolate Decadence’

Morning of the party

Crumble the blue cheese and dice the red onion for the ‘Sliced Tomato Salad’
Chop the parsley for garnish, refrigerate
Make the ‘Chocolate Decadence’, store at room temperature

2 hours ahead

Toast the French fried onions for the ‘Creamed Spinach’

1 hour ahead

Make the ‘Creamed Spinach’, keep warm
Make the ‘Hash Browns’, keep warm
Prepare the lobster tail, refrigerate until ready to cook

Just before the party

Finish making and plate the ‘Sliced Tomato Salad’
Chill your martini glasses by filling them with ice and water
Check bar, fill ice buckets, set out garnishes

Just before serving dinner

Make the ‘Steamed Broccoli’
Make the ‘Sautéed Mushrooms’
Cook the ‘Lobster Tail’
Season and cook the ‘T-Bone Steak’

Shopping List – Steakhouse at Home

Beefsteak tomatoes, 1 – 2
Red onion, 1
Blue cheese, 2 ounces crumbled
Basil, 1 bunch
Large broccoli crowns, 2 – 3
Sliced mushrooms, 8 ounces
Flat leaf parsley, 1 bunch
Frozen chopped spinach, 1 12-ounce bag
Garlic, 1 bulb
Shallot, 1 large
Heavy cream, ½ pint
French fried onions
Russet potatoes, 1½ pounds, about 2 large potatoes
Lobster tail, 10-ounces
T-Bone steak, 26 ounces
Bittersweet chocolate, 16 ounces
Fresh raspberries, 1 pint
Frozen raspberries, 1 12-ounce package
Chambord liqueur
Woodford Reserve Bourbon
Red wine (such as Merlot)
Bourbon or whiskey
Sweet vermouth
Maraschino cherries

Also buy if not in your pantry:

Kosher salt
Eggs, 1 dozen
Unsalted butter
Olive oil
Peanut or vegetable oil
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Dried oregano
Powdered sugar

T-Bone Steak

2 6-ounce T-bone steak
3 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons spice rub, recipe below
Fresh ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Brush both sides of the steak with oil and sprinkle with all of the spice rub and a generous amount of pepper.

In an oven-proof frying pan, heat 1 teaspoon oil over high heat. Sear one side of the steak in the pan for 2 minutes, flip to sear the other side for 2 minutes. Place the pan with the steak in the oven and cook for 5 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 125 degrees. It will rise at least another 10 degrees to 135 for medium rare. Serve after it has rested for 5 minutes.

Spice Rub

(Makes about 1 cup)

4 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and pour into a spice shaker. Mixture will keep for 6 months. Use this mixture to season any sort of meat, chicken or fish whether baking, pan-frying or grilling.

Lobster Tail

(Serves 2)

1 10-ounce lobster tail, thawed
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Butter pats (3 teaspoons, cut from the end of the stick)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Thaw lobster tail in the refrigerator overnight. Rinse under cold water and cut the top of the shell down the center to the tail. Pull the meat out and rest it on the top of the shell leaving the tip of the tail still connected to the fins. Make a small slit down the center of the meat and insert 3 pats of butter. Place on a baking dish and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn heat to broil on high. Squeeze a couple lemon wedges over the meat, sprinkle with paprika and broil for 5 minutes until golden. For presentation leave the cooked meat on top of the tail, to eat, remove the shell. Serve with additional lemon wedges and melted butter for dipping.

Hash Browns

(Serves 2 to 4)

1½ pounds russet potatoes (about 2 large potatoes)
1 egg white
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Peanut or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Peel potatoes and wash. Use a food processor with the medium shredding attachment to shred the potatoes. Place in a kitchen towel and wring out all of the water until very dry. This is a must for crispy potatoes.

In a 9-inch oven-proof frying pan heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat. In a large mixing bowl toss the potato shreds with the egg white and season with ½ teaspoon of salt and pepper. Spoon mixture into the hot pan, packing it in well, pressing down to compress the mixture. Drizzle the top with more oil and season with a little more salt and pepper. When it starts to brown on the bottom and get crispy around the edges flip the hash brown over onto a plate, then slide them back into the pan and brown on the other side. Put the pan with the hash brown in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly before sliding onto your serving platter. Garnish with more pepper and serve immediately.

Sautéed Mushroom

(Serves 2 to 4)

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
½ cup port
Freshly chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat the butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms in a single layer and let cook without stirring for 5 minutes. Raise heat to medium high, remove the pan from the heat and add the port, return the pan to the heat and cook until liquid has been absorbed, about 3 to  5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Sliced Tomato Salad

(Serves 2 to 4)

1 or 2 large Beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 4 thick slices
High quality olive oil
2 tablespoons red onion, diced
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
Fresh ground black pepper
Basil sprig for garnish

Place the sliced tomatoes on your serving plate. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with the red onion and blue cheese, season with salt and pepper. Garnish with sprig of basil.

Note: You can also drizzle aged or reduced balsamic vinegar over the top to add another layer of flavor.

Steamed Broccoli

(Serves 2 to 4)

2 or 3 large broccoli crowns, cleaned
Lemon wedge

Fit a pot with a steamer basket and add water just to the bottom of the basket. Bring water to a boil over high heat, add the broccoli, cover and steam for 5 to 7 minutes until desired doneness. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

Note: You can steam broccoli in the microwave by placing it in a microwave safe dish with 1 tablespoon of water. Cover and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until desired doneness. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

Creamed Spinach

(Serves 4 to 6)

1 12-ounce bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1½ teaspoons crushed garlic
¼ cup minced shallots
½ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Canned French fried onions for garnish

Make sure the spinach is drained of all water by either wringing in a kitchen towel or pressing in a fine sieve.

In a medium sauté pan heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the spinach and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Place in serving dish and garnish with toasted French fried onions. Serve immediately.

Chocolate Decadence

(Serves 6 to 8)

6 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon flour
16 ounces bittersweet chocolate
10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter
1 pint fresh raspberries
Raspberry sauce for garnish (recipe below)
Powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan.

In a mixing bowl, blend the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and flour until smooth and thick. Set aside.  In a double boiler, melt the chocolate with the butter. Slowly add the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture, stirring until incorporated.

Pour into cake pan, smooth the top and bake for 15 to 17 minutes. It will seem undercooked but will set as it cools. Place a piece on a plate, drizzle desired amount of raspberry sauce and sprinkle with powdered sugar, garnish with fresh raspberries.

Raspberry Sauce

1 12-ounce package frozen raspberries, thawed
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Chambord liqueur

In a food processor or blender, puree the raspberries with the sugar and Chambord. Press through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the seeds. Pour into a small pitcher for serving. Can be made 1 day in advance.

Woodford Ruby

(Makes 2 drinks)

3 ounces Woodford Reserve Bourbon
6 ounces red wine such as Merlot
2 ounces simple syrup
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into chilled martini glasses. Garnish with a lemon twists.

Traditional Manhattan

(Makes 1 drink)

In a shaker with ice add:

1½ ounces Bourbon or Whiskey
¼ ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes bitters

Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. F&D